Academic Confessions: Outside looking in

Op-eds Opinions

The first few lines of my CV and biography say: “Samantha Tsuruda holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree, Psychology Major, from the University of Victoria. She is a consultant in Program Evaluation, and is currently a Master in Public Health Candidate at the University of British Columbia.”

The truth is, that doesn’t really explain much of anything. How did someone with a BA in Psych get into the field of Program Evaluation? Why choose Public Health after that? Over the next few months, I hope to make the reasons I have endeavored down this path more explicit. Give context to my CV, so to speak. And since I can’t resist, candidly share the bumps and turns along the way.

To begin, I will introduce myself slightly differently…

My name is Samantha Tsuruda, and I am a woman of Indigenous descent from the Spuzzum First Nation in the Fraser Valley. I was raised, however, in West Vancouver – slightly (sarcasm) removed from my traditions and community. I won’t go into the impact of residential schools and the Indian Act here, but the bottom line is that my great-grandmother’s culture was not passed on between my family’s generations.

In the latter years of my undergrad, I began to wonder about the woven cedar baskets throughout our home, the continual abundance of canned salmon in the pantry, the glaring health inequities between my 400+ Native relatives. Why were some healthier than others, and why did poor health seem to correlate with the families who lived on reserve? Why do I feel so discriminated against at my own family reunions? Around that time, I made a conscious decision to learn more, with the hopes of doing more.

Immediately after graduating from UVic in December of 2010, I moved back home to Vancouver. I began to network as much as possible, with the intention of grounding my roots and work, somehow, in Aboriginal health. The next month can only be described as a series of fortuitous events that led me to my mentor, Dr. Kim van der Woerd.

Her firm, Reciprocal Consulting, specializes in program evaluation and development with Aboriginal organizations and communities. During my interview, she shared her mission of reducing educational disparities between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. At that point, I wanted to pursue my Masters in Counseling, and was already grateful for the overlap of our visions. After an hour-long meeting, she invited me to begin work on Monday. And without fully understanding what “program evaluation” was, I agreed.

Over the past few years, I have been involved in more projects and received more teachings than I ever anticipated – in the best possible way. What my CV doesn’t convey, however, is my gratitude for the individuals I have gotten to work with, for the constant learning, and for the welcoming I received into several First Nations communities across the province. They are my favourite classrooms.

Although I cannot articulate the end goal of my journey, I am just as motivated to improve Aboriginal education and health outcomes as I was when I first met Kim. I plan on pursuing my PhD in the near future, and can say without a doubt that I am committed to being a life-long mentor: I raise my hands up to each of my teachers, and promise to do my best to bring others with me.